Monday, 19 March 2012

ruderals in my garden have rights

Today I've come across a word I've been needing for years. But I didn't know I needed it. The word is ruderals.

I'm reading a book, Gardening Philosophy for Everyone, that has literally changed the way I see the world. I enjoyed the first chapter, 'The Virtues of Gardening', because it validates my belief that it is a 'good thing' to garden - more about that another time. However, it's chapter three, 'Escaping Eden - Plant Ethics in a Gardener's World', that has allowed me to realise that plants, too, are living, autonomous beings, entitled to consideration from humans.

I try to live in harmony with the environment, enriching the soil of my garden with natural substances and caring for the soil, but since I've read this chapter it's as if my eyes are open to the life force of the plants around me and I see them more vividly. I'm loving the experience.

What we call weeds are also entitled to our consideration.
In order to overcome exclusion and human mastery of the plant kingdom and the natural world, care, attention, and responsibility need to be extended outwards from our "cultivated" plants towards those plants that keep on coming back into our Edens from the wild lands outside... [This] requires giving over space to those plant lives that make their way into our gardens of their own accord: the wildflowers, grasses, climbers, and ruderals. It requires giving space and being open to the spontaneous arrivals and actions of plants that are not completely under human control. Setting aside space for plants to grow unchecked can help transform Eden from a human orientated space into one that is at the forefront of ethical reparations to the natural world.
Hmm...I will have to think about this. I've certainly got plenty of plants in my garden that arrived of their own accord, and when I recognise a seedling as useful to me, I tend it. But to allow that pesky Blue Periwinkle to spread around my garden is a big ask.

On the other hand, if I just keep it in check and let it have a corner of the yard, maybe I could make life easier for myself.

And what are these ruderals?

After consulting the Online Macquarie Dictionary I discover:
ruderal - adjective - growing near human habitations in waste places. [New Latin rūderālis, from Latin rūder-, rūdus broken stone, rubble] says:
1. (adj.) ruderal
(of a plant) growing in waste places, along roadsides, or in rubbish.

2. (n.) ruderal
a ruderal plant.

Etymology: (1855–60; < NL rūderālis < L rūder- (s. of rūdus broken stone, rubble)
Aha! Those periwinkles are ruderals. They're creeping under my fence from the untended laneway at the back of our property.

Since I've learned this word I seem to see vacant land everywhere, carpeted with living green. (We've had good rain the last few months, thank goodness.)

It's all in the name, as I've said before about weeds.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Tullamareena and Tullamarine

Recently I visited the historic homestead at Woodlands, home to retired champion race horses.

I was telling my family today what a great place it is to visit, and explaining that it's just beside Tullamarine Airport.

One family member wondered where the name Tullamarine came from. We thought it probably came from a local indigenous language, and it seems it did. eMelbourne says:
Located between Melbourne Airport (formerly called Tullamarine Airport) and Gladstone Park, Tullamarine was a predominantly agricultural township until the 1950s. It now includes both residential and industrial areas, and major manufacturers include Schweppes Cottees, Honda and Caterpillar Australia. Tullamarine is thought to derive its name from Tullamareena, the name of a Wurundjeri boy noted by George Langhorne.
It's news to me that our airport isn't called Tullamarine any more! I wonder when that changed?

I also wondered who that boy was. What brought him to the notice of the invading Europeans?

Wikipedia refers to him as 'a senior man of the Wurundjeri', and notes that at the time he was thought to be 'a steady, industrious man'. In 1838 he was arrested for sheep-stealing and imprisoned. In making his escape, with two other indigenous men, he burned down the gaol.
William Lonsdale, the first Police magistrate of Melbourne wrote in a letter to the colonial secretary on 26 April 1838:
...I was at first apprehensive that some of the blacks had set the gaol on fire...for the purpose of liberating the three who were confined, but to ascertain what I could on this point, I went as soon as I was satisfied that the stores and prisoners were temporarily disposed of after their being taken from the buildings, into the different camps of blacks, of which there were three in the neighbourhood... Describing how the gaol was set fire to, he says that the other black who was confined with him got a long piece of reed which he thrust through an opening in the partition between the place where he was confined in and the guard room, and after lighting the reed by the guard's candle he drew it back and set fire to the thatch roof. The two blacks got off but one was afterwards retaken, viz. Jin Jin. This affair is much to be regretted, keeping up as it undoubtedly will the public alarm and agitation regarding the blacks.
Apparently Tullamareena was later recaptured, sent for trial to Sydney and released without conviction when it became apparent he could not understand English.

He was set free more than 700 kilometres from home. To me that seems to have been cruel and unfair. I hope he found his way back to his own country.

Like all too many Australians, I know little about the history of our own country, so I'm happy that thinking about a familiar word in a different way has opened my eyes just a little to the indigenous history of this area.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

the early bird gets the mulch

Every morning the birds get up early and scratch my mulch off the garden bed and onto the only neat path in the whole backyard.

I could find this aggravating. On the other hand, I could take the advice of Mary Horsfall, in The Mulch Book:
congratulate yourself on encouraging biodiversity, smile and push mulch back around plants. Place net over mulch if birds are a real pest.
No, the birds are not a terrible pest. On the contrary, they are pest-eaters. Thus I get to start every day with a smile. And with dirty hands.

The Online Macquarie Dictionary defines pest as:
noun 1. an organism considered harmful, as in agriculture, horticulture, buildings either domestic or commercial, etc.
2. a troublesome thing or person; nuisance.
3. Obsolete a deadly epidemic disease; a pestilence.
4. Obsolete a disease produced by the plague bacillus. [Latin pestis plague, disease]
How could anyone look at something as lovely as a bird and think of it as a plague on the garden?

Well, I'll admit that sometimes, when I see a hole picked in every piece of fruit on the tree, I do think a few bad thoughts about the birds...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

naked seeds in my garden

As usual, I had my nose in a gardening book today. I love to know why things happen, and this title grabbed me - Practical Science for Gardeners by Mary Pratt. I've been discovering why I shouldn't have abandoned the sciences in favor of the arts so many years ago. If I'd continued with my studies I'd have know why plants behave the way they do, and maybe I'd have killed a few less growing things along the way.

Perhaps, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I remembered the difference between Monocotyledones and Dicotyledones, but it was a surprise to read about naked seeds - gymnosperms.

Since it seemed likely that sperm referred to seed, the other part of the word must mean naked. Wait a minute? Was the original gym a place for naked people?

A quick look at the Online Etymology Dictionary confirmed my guess:
1590s, "place of exercise," from L. gymnasium "school for gymnastics," from Gk. gymnasion "public place where athletic exercises are practiced; gymnastics school," in plural, "bodily exercises," from gymnazein "to exercise or train," literally or figuratively, lit. "to train naked," from gymnos "naked" (see naked). Introduced to German 15c. as a name for "high school" (more or less paralleling a sense in Latin); in English it has remained purely athletic.
Okay, so that's going to make my imagination go wild when I walk past the local gym.

And what about an equestrian gymkhana? Well, it seems this word has a different origin, probably coming from the Hindustani as gend-khana, before being influenced by the word gymnasium and changing its first syllable.

Friday, 2 March 2012

a gardening journal is a study in phenology

Recently I decided to keep a journal of events in my garden, so I'll know in future years when to expect plants to bloom or fruit, and how quickly seeds might sprout. One of the precipitating factors was my decision to pick all the apples to stop the rats, possums and birds pinching them all. When I took the apples inside I discovered they weren't ripe enough to eat, so I had to cook them. (I decided they weren't fully ripe because I noticed the seeds hadn't turned black.) I know my memory isn't good enough to remember what date I picked them, so I bought a book and started my journal.

Since then I've noted each time I put seeds in the ground, and when the first little leaves pushed up through the soil. Very exciting. I'm also going to note how long it takes my compost to 'cook' in my tumbler - I'm trying out the recipe for Fast Compost in The Compost Book by David Taylor. It will supposedly be ready in only fourteen days, if I've followed the recipe correctly.

It was only when I was reading the gorgeously illustrated book, Harvest, by Meredith Kirton, that I came across the word phenology. She writes:
This is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena, such as the dates when leaves or flowers emerge, even when insects emerge from their cocoons or migratory birds make their first flight. The founder of this science was Robert Marsham (1708 - 1797).
So, when I write in my new book, I'll think of myself as a phenologist.

Project Budburst says:
The word phenology comes from the Greek words “phaino” (to show or appear) and “logos” (to study). Phenology is one of the oldest branches of environmental science, dating back thousands of years. Observations of phenological events have provided indications of the progress of the natural calendar – when seasons begin and change – since pre-agricultural times...
In Europe, the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) systematically recorded flowering times for 18 locations in Sweden over many years. His meticulous notes also recorded the exact climatic conditions when flowering occurred. Linnaeus, and a British landowner, Robert Marsham, share the honor of being considered the ‘fathers’ of modern plant phenology.
Marsham could be considered one of the first citizen scientists in modern times. He was a wealthy landowner who kept systematic records of "Indications of spring" on his estate in England. Marsham’s observations were in the form of dates of the first occurrence of events such as flowering, bud burst, and emergence or flight of an insect. For generations, Marsham’s family maintained records of phenological events over exceptionally long periods of time, eventually ending with the death of Mary Marsham in 1958. The records of the Marsham family showed trends that were observed and related to long-term climate records.
If I lived in the US, I'd have loved to participate in Project Budburst, which is a community of people collecting and recording information about these types of phenomena.

I wonder if we have something similar in Australia.